For decades, De Beers Group has put considerable resources into improving the socio-economic status of communities surrounding its mines and operations with its efforts meeting with considerable success.
It is now taking its community engagement to the next level with ambitious and measurable goals having been set for the next decade as part of the Building Forever initiative, which has ‘Partnering for Thriving Communities’ as one of its four core pillars.
Building Forever builds on many past successes for De Beers, including a World First HIV/AIDS health programme at its diamond mines in Botswana, launched in 2001. According to Dr Tshepo Sedibe, Health Lead for the De Beers Group, the programme – which includes free anti-retroviral treatment for employees and their ‘dependants’ – has resulted in the mortality rate from AIDS amongst employees reducing from 31 % to just 0,1 %.
Another outcome is that De Beers in 2019 marked more than 10 years of no babies being born with HIV to HIV-positive mothers.
De Beers’ experience with AIDS and HIV has also contributed to it making a highly effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When the pandemic started, we rapidly took measures to protect our internal employees and our contractors but it rapidly became apparent that we needed to take our efforts into the communities,” says Nerys John, Head of Social Impact at De Beers.
“Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and sanitation became of utmost importance in the schools and hospitals in our host communities in order to prevent transmission. As things developed, we then adapted our approach to include the provision of testing, intensive care unit beds, oxygen and isolation centres.”
Given that mines eventually close and that when this happens communities can lose their main source of livelihoods, De Beers places major emphasis on providing community members with skills that will allow them to support themselves after mining operations cease. Nowhere is this more apparent than at De Beers’ Venetia mine in South Africa’s Limpopo Province.
“We have several socio-economic initiatives running in the Venetia area but one of the most significant is the supplier development programme which is designed to promote local procurement,” says Greg Petersen, De Beers Group Manager – Socio-economic Development.
“We’ve already appointed more than 50 suppliers in terms of the programme. The biggest of these is the bus company we use to transport employees from the Musina and Blouberg areas to the mine. We’ve worked to ensure that communities have a stake in the company and indeed it is now 40 % owned by community members.